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Why Comey’s Shook

Of course former FBI director James Comey dislikes socialists — we’re against the kind of reprehensible business practices that made him rich.

James Comey — joined by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates — addresses members of the media during a press briefing held June 13, 2016 at FBI Headquarters. FBI / Wikimedia

Who could’ve guessed that in 2018, a former FBI director would be publicly warning Democrats against “rush[ing] to the socialist left”? Well, everyone, really. But this abandonment of the political neutrality that James Comey has cultivated over the course of his career for the purpose of passing along an anti-left message to his one million Twitter followers is doubly unsurprising given Comey’s work in the private sector.

Of course, Comey was always a civil liberties-averse authoritarian whose FBI (as with previous directors) went after left-wing activists and innocent people of color. But comparatively little attention is paid to his work outside government, which reflects a decidedly rightward tilt to his politics beyond merely the subjects of security and law and order.

In an early New York magazine profile, Comey explained how his initial experience in the private sector had left him morally shaken, after he successfully defended a company against accusations that its machinery caused asbestos injuries. With that ethically compromising experience behind him, where did Comey go after his stint in the Bush administration?

Why, Lockheed Martin of course, only the world’s largest weapons manufacturer, with a massive corporate malfeasance rap sheet. For five years, Comey served as the senior vice president and general counsel for Lockheed, which, besides enabling and profiting handsomely from global death and destruction, also had a history of bribery, allegations of hiring discrimination, and environmental racism. While this was happening long before Comey’s arrival, the record suggests his steering of — and legal advice to — the company didn’t change its behavior.

Between 2006 and 2013 — four years of which Comey spent at the company — Lockheed overbilled the government on fuel, eventually settling the matter for $2 million. In July 2008, it sued the federal government, arguing that taxpayers, not the company itself, should foot the bill for cleanups at facilities where space rockets were produced and tested.

From March 2009, the tail end of Comey’s time with the company, Lockheed embarked on a “capture strategy” for the Obama administration, a lobbying campaign to ensure one of its subsidiaries secured a lucrative contract. In the process, it used taxpayer funds to pay for the lobbying, which is illegal.

But probably the most egregious thing the company did at this time was continue to refuse to stop making cluster munitions, despite 107 countries signing a treaty in May 2008 calling for the clearance and destruction of nearly all existing stockpiles. Comey nonetheless accepted a $6 million pay package from the company in one of his final years.

Comey’s next stop was the Chamber of Commerce, where he lent his legal expertise to the organization’s multi-decade effort to fight consumer rights and turn the legal system into a tool exclusively for large corporations. In June 2009, he was elected chairman of the National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC), which between May 2009 and August 2012 successfully swayed the Supreme Court into taking up more cases and ruling in ways favorable to its interests, generally in the direction of putting the legal system further and further out of reach of ordinary people and into the arms of big business.

Here’s a short rundown of some of what the NCLC got up to while Comey chaired it:

  • Filed a brief, as part of a longer campaign aimed at gutting the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law allowing foreigners to bring lawsuits in American courts, criticizing the extension of international law to private corporations. In this particular case, a group of Nigerian plaintiffs had sued Pfizer after it tested experimental drugs on children without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
  • Filed a brief against an Oregon law that took away employers’ power to hold mandatory meetings in which they fed their employees’ anti-union information.
  • Filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to reject opening US courts to foreign class-action suits on securities.
  • Joined a federal lawsuit against a National Mediation Board rule that made it easier for airline workers to organize. While previously, a majority of an entire workforce had to vote to unionize — turning those who simply didn’t vote at all into “no” votes — the new rule made it necessary only to win a majority of those who did vote, making it far easier to unionize. The NCLC, under Comey, fought against the rule change.
  • Filed a brief urging an appellate court to uphold a judge’s decision to stop a moratorium on offshore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico that was passed shortly after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Comey then spent a few years at Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world. Its new age, hippie-like culture later served as the basis for reporters to wax lyrical about Comey bringing “radical truth and radical transparency” to the FBI.

The cherry on top was his joining the board of banking giant HSBC in January 2013. This came only a month after the bank paid an absurdly lenient $1.9 billion fine for laundering money for drug cartels and terrorists, particularly ironic — you might even say hypocritical — given Comey’s advocacy for stringent “tough on crime” and anti-terrorist measures, and the lives they helped destroy, often for far lesser transgressions.

By the time Obama nominated Comey to be FBI director, his net worth was at least $11 million (and this was before the $2 million he received last year for his book). If Comey’s conscience had once been “rattled” by defending an unseemly client in court, the pile of cash he had accumulated for his work for similar clients no doubt made it easier to bear.

So it’s easy to see why Comey would be so alarmed by the emergence of socialist candidates in the US: their rise, and the political vision they champion, are not only the kind of political vision that the FBI has always been intent on crushing, but a direct threat to the way Comey and other ex-officials have amassed a fortune after passing through the Washington revolving door.